So how does one know when summer actually arrives?
Well, I suppose you could look at the calendar and go with the whole June 21st summer equinox thing. It’s not very romantic, but it’s certainly accurate and official. Or I suppose you could make the observation that the days are getting longer and — depending on where you live — warmer. The qualification of that last bit being, here in Berkeley/San Francisco, at least, summer doesn’t always guarantee warmer (hence that dubious Mark Twain quote: “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”). Or you could note that baseball season has begun and you suddenly have an irrational itch for eternally long sporting events. Or you might find yourself spending increasing amounts of time in front of the Otter Pop section of the frozen food aisle, mesmerized by the bright colors and — depending on your age — awash in warm, fuzzy nostalgic feelings for the sugary goodness of Alexander the Grape, Sir Isaac Lime and Strawberry Short Kook.
All these are prognosticators, to be sure, and won’t let you down with their accuracy, but for me it all begins with the music. Summer music. When I was a kid, it was the crackly tones of “pop goes the weasel” pied-pipering their way out of an ice cream truck, lulling my suburban friends and I into such somnambulistic states that our allowance money was easily handed over for half melted ice cream sandwiches, cinnamon toothpicks and astro pops. Later it was the outdoor music festivals and early Sunday morning lines at ticket master for shows at the Irvine Meadows amphitheater. And while neither of these particular portends have completely disappeared — I still go all Pavlovian when I hear “pop goes the weasel” — I now gauge the arrival of summer by the sickly sweet sounds of Hong Kong pop songs.
For good or for bad, I live four floors above the back entrance to the “Great China” restaurant here in Berkeley. Architecturally, it doesn’t look anything like your normal Chinese eatery, it’s more of a small Victorian house sandwiched between the massive brick California Theatre on the one side, an apartment construction site on the other and my complex to the back. A worn wooden staircase lines the side of the restaurant just outside the kitchen door and rises up to a level of no consequence or purpose (think the Winchester House and you’ll probably get my meaning). There’s a door at the top of the stairs — half as narrow as a normal door — but as far as I can tell it’s never used. Basically it seems these stairs serve two functions only; a place to store crates of green onions and the raw dough for dumplings and a place where the staff of middle-aged Chinese women sit sleepy eyed in the morning listening to pop music on a boombox while they wait for their bosses to arrive to let them in.
In the wintertime, I barely notice this life at all — my double pane window sadly blocks out all the sound below. The drowsy, singsongy conversations of these women and the cheap radio are no match for my modern glass. Come the end of spring, however, when the weather starts to warm up and I open my windows 24/7, the Cantopop once again rises from below, swirls into my room and like the swallows returning home to San Juan Capistrano signals the change of the season.